The digital product development process looks slightly different for everyone depending on the project and development approach. However, when it comes to developing mobile apps and websites, there are certain steps that every product development process will need to follow to be successful.
Most developers and app development companies refer to these steps as the product development cycle. This post will walk you through the basic steps of the digital product development process and explain what you should be doing and looking for at each step.
Understanding the Digital Product Development Process
When people talk about digital product development, they typically condense the process into anywhere from four to seven steps. Some people view certain steps as one, while others might break specific steps into two or more steps. As a result, there is no definitive way to think about the digital product development process. Remember, while your project will require these steps to succeed, your experience might not follow the same path as another product development project.
Ideally, you will have a project management team to oversee digital product development and guide your teams through the necessary steps. For the sake of simplicity, we are going to condense the digital product development process into four broad steps that include:
- Discovery, ideation, validation
- Design and prototype
- Product development and launch
- Ongoing maintenance and testing
Discovery, Ideation, Validation
Many people will break this initial step into three separate stages of product development. While this could be helpful, often, there aren’t clear lines of demarcation between where discovery ends, and ideation begins, and so on.
The initial stage of the development process is all about finding a problem to solve, coming up with a solution that solves the problem, and finally, validating that your solution actually works and there is a market for it.
Too many businesses start to fail at this early stage of the development process because they erroneously believe they understand a problem, overestimate the value of solving a certain problem, or get attached to a solution that doesn’t solve the problem they have identified.
It is understandable to be eager to begin developing your app. However, you must take your time during the beginning stage to set your digital product up for future success. Here are some good questions to keep in mind during the earliest days of product development:
- Do you fully understand the problem you are trying to solve?
- Is the problem you are solving worthwhile to users?
- Does your product solve the problem?
- Is there enough of a market for your product to justify development?
Many digital products fail because businesses don’t take the time to fully understand the answers to these questions before committing resources. While you will never completely remove risk, a thorough discovery, ideation, and validation process can uncover unseen problems and dramatically reduce your risk.
Design and Prototype
Once you have a clear idea of what your digital product will do, it is time to determine how it will look and function. Typically, the design phase of the development process begins with wireframing. Wireframes give key stakeholders a clear understanding of how the product will function and how users will interact with it. You can think of wireframes like blueprints for a house.
Next, you will want to bring those wireframe blueprints to life with design. Initial designs will likely be renderings of each screen laid out in the order of a typical user journey. If you are working on an app development project, you should have designs for each device you intend to launch on. For example, if you create a cross-platform app, you should have designs for the various iPhone models, iPad tablets, and Android phones and tablets.
Finally, you should have a clickable prototype or a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to play with before you go into full production. An MVP not only helps validate your idea and demonstrate the value of your product, but it can also help you have more detailed discussions about specific User Interface (UI) elements and the overall User Experience (UX).
Creating a great User Experience is one of the most important facets of product development. There are so many details that create a seamless UX that it typically is an ongoing process of optimization. However, early access to a prototype or MVP can drastically improve the UX of your digital product before moving on to production.
Product Development and Launch
Once your idea has been validated, and you have created a design, you are ready to develop your product and launch it. There are several different approaches to development, from Agile and lean development to DevOps. The approach you choose for digital product development should play to the size and strengths of your development team. The key is to keep your development project on time and within budget. If you took the time to plan in the earliest stages of the process, you should have few difficulties keeping your project on track.
Finally, when your product is complete, you are ready to launch. There are a few different ways you can launch your digital product. The two main types of product launches are soft and hard launches. A soft launch makes your product available to a select group of users. Many businesses start with a soft launch as a final form of validation before moving on to a hard launch. A hard launch is a wide release to all interested users. In the case of digital products like mobile apps, a hard launch would make your app widely available on app stores.
Ongoing Maintenance and Testing
Product development does not end with launch. You could make the argument that product development never truly ends. Ongoing maintenance and quality assurance testing are necessary to ensure that your product continues to function at a high level.
If your idea is ultimately successful, the bulk of the product development process will be regular ongoing maintenance and testing. These tasks are crucial to find and fix bugs and keep the User Experience of your product at optimal levels.
This is a simplification of the product development process, but it should give you a good idea of what goes into the process and why it is important. Remember, your app or website’s development process might look a little different, but it should include all of the steps mentioned above. If you need help understanding or implementing a digital product development process that meets your needs, reach out to an app development partner.